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India launches world's biggest healthcare program

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Health Desk: 02 February 2018:  India announced Thursday a program to give half a billion citizens free health insurance, a potentially transformative upgrade of the country’s dilapidated public health-care services and a key element of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government’s last budget before national elections next year.

If the ambitious plan, dubbed “Modicare” by Indian media, is approved by Parliament and adequately funded and implemented, it could represent a first step toward universal health coverage, according to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley — a development that would be life-changing in a country where millions of people still rely on village quacks and ascetic healers for treatment. But economists are asking how such a vast program can be funded in just a year.

Under the plan, the government will cover health-care costs of up to $7,800 for 100 million poor families and spend some $188 million to create “health and wellness” centers, Jaitley announced to loud table-thumping in India’s lower house. Spending on nutrition for tuberculosis patients, cleanliness drives, and education will also result in significant improvements in public health, he said.

“This will be the world’s largest government-funded health-care program,” Jaitley told lawmakers.

Many health experts reacted positively to the plan. “This is a very proactive budget,” said Vinay Aggarwal, former president of the Indian Medical Association. “Before this, hardly 5 percent of Indians were covered by health insurance. If you take into account private health care, it’s hardly 10 percent. Now we’re addressing 45 percent,” he said, adding that the proposed coverage of $7,800 per family represents a very large amount in India, where spending on health care is much lower than in the United States.